free application monitoring

Free and Affordable Application Monitoring Tools

Iryne Somera Developer Tips, Tricks & Resources

Free application monitoring tools are the go-to options for small organizations with limited IT budgets. However, with the number of tools available, which ones should you use? In this article, let’s analyze several free application monitoring tools that allow you to effectively pinpoint application performance issues. 

When your system fails or performs poorly, you need a feature-rich APM solution. These solutions should drill down to the exact line of code and provide insights. For instance, finding which code or plugins are contributing bottlenecks in times of high demand is a huge advantage. 

Finding the right solution is challenging. However, you can start by considering the size of your organization and the preference of your IT department. As for APM’s attributes, there are tons of choices.

You can start by gauging the efficiency of its customer support. Other considerations include how a tool deals with custom software versus pre-written applications. Also, examine if the solution is infrastructure-oriented or it focuses more on user experience. Lastly, consider if the free application monitoring tool caters to the seven most frequently-used languages: Java, PHP, JS, .NET, Ruby, Python, and Go.


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Top Free and Affordable Application Monitoring Tools

A top-notch user experience generates revenue for the business. Therefore, if the budget is limited, then companies should choose the right application monitoring tools. Although these tools are mostly for revenue-critical applications, there are still free application monitoring tools that help examine your application’s behavior.

Prefix

You can’t improve what you can’t measure. Stackify’s Prefix is a free transaction tracing tool that you can use daily. Prefix enables developers to:

  • Validate code behavior
  • Locate hidden exceptions
  • Identify slow SQL queries
  • Review code performance

Prefix is available for Java and .NET web applications and works with Windows applications only.  Developers can write and perform web application testing with Prefix. It deals with complex log files and finds the exact log messages for a single web request.

Additionally, Prefix is a lightweight profiler that easily catches hidden exceptions. It also quickly spots suspicious app behavior. For instance, a sudden surge of database calls for a certain web request and many others. 

You can download Prefix here and subscribe to Premium at $15 per month. The premium features include customization, collaboration, storage, end-to-end transaction profiling, and profiling non-web and self-hosted apps. 

Retrace

Most applications require multiple isolated tools and were designed for huge IT operations. There are no Application Performance Monitoring (APM) solutions that solely cater to the developer’s perspective. Stackify’s Retrace changes the paradigm by combining exactly the needs of the developers – what they needed to see and how they wanted to see it.

We call it Retrace because of its ability to help you retrace what your code is doing and to quickly find bugs and performance problems.

Retrace is an easy-to-use SaaS application monitoring solution that combines several key products:

  • APM – code level application performance visibility
  • Transaction tracing – code level traces of what your code is doing
  • Metrics – server, application, and custom metrics monitoring
  • Logs – aggregation, searching, and management
  • Errors – aggregation, reporting & alerting
  • Alerts – robust monitoring and alert capabilities

Retrace collects a huge amount of data about your application’s health and performance. The combination of all of this data in one place plus an easy-to-use user interface for developers make Retrace distinctive from any other APM solution you have ever used. It does not matter if it is your first day on the job or you’ve been supporting the same app for years, with Retrace you can see everything you need to without any guesswork.

AppOptics

Is there an APM tool that caters to everything? Short answer: None. 

But, there is an APM that can cater to almost all the applications’ needs. It sounds ambitious, but AppOptics can work on a broader point of view. It means that it can monitor the entire operation and the environment’s behavior as a whole. 

On the other hand, it can also drill down to individual lines of code. The latter identifies which specific function calls are affecting the overall performance and user experience.

Above all, AppOptics is part of the SolarWinds ecosystem. It is a set of solutions that cover everything. AppOptics work with pure network and server monitoring to functions like storage, IP address, database, configuration management, and security solutions. It also caters to hybrid IT applications that run from on-premises into the cloud. 

You can start a free trial and upgrade to the $9.99 plan per month per host infrastructure monitoring. Or you can avail of its $24.99 monthly subscription for both infrastructure and application monitoring.

CloudWatch

How about if you work specifically with an Amazon infrastructure?

Yes, there are times when your software project has specific boundaries. There could be several reasons behind it. For example, a project design that requires less influence or interaction. If you are dealing with AWS infrastructure, there is no need to go far and find several free application monitoring tools. Instead, choose the cloud vendor’s monitoring tool―CloudWatch.

CloudWatch is a monitoring and management system that gathers performance data. It is an observability service that helps DevOps engineers improve their software teams working on AWS components. 

CloudWatch’s basic monitoring is FREE, but with paid tiers to augment insight monitoring, custom metrics, and more. Also, if you use Microsoft Technologies, you can opt for the AWS MS licensing optimization. The huge limitation is it only works for Amazon infrastructure and hinders a multi-cloud deployment.

Sysdig

Since we’re talking about free and affordable monitoring tools, is there an APM tool for the cost-conscious?

Yes, there is. 

Sysdig is an open-source mainstay with extensive use cases ranging from security, monitoring, integrations, and different environments. As every developer deals with containers, microservices, and cloud computing, Sysdig can help you entirely. It captures system states and activities from a running instance. After that, it saves, filters, and analyzes the gathered data. 

You can create your rules and monitor data streams. Also, it provides easy monitoring, tracking, and securing of your containerized resources on the fly. Additionally, the coding works with the Lua programming language. However, you can also operate via an interactive UI.  

Application Performance Management’s Attributes 

All software projects, without exceptions, need to leverage APM tools. All five APM tools above have different features. However, let’s consider several attributes that will help you choose the best free monitoring tools for your software project.

User Experience Management

End-user experience monitoring should be active and passive. Find an application performance monitoring tool that identifies and resolves response time. Additionally, it manages performance Service Level Agreements (SLA) by data measurement based on user interactions.

Look for the following features on how a tool manages user experience. 

Synthetic User Record and Playback 

Synthetic transaction monitoring is an active monitoring technique. It simulates the actions of an end-user on a Web application. It is made possible by using monitoring agents executing pre-recorded scripts that mimic end-user behavior.

Real User Monitoring (RUM) 

Real user monitoring(RUM) is a passive monitoring approach. It collects metrics at the browser level and accurately determines application performance. It works through injecting JavaScript snippets into the header and footer of the HTML code of the Web application.

Real User Session Capture and Replay

An APM tool captures, indexes, and visually replays the entire users’ digital experience across browsers, interfaces, and peripherals.

Business Analysis Data Mart 

Applications dealing with a vast amount of data need an APM that can deal with Data Mart. A data mart is a repository of the summarized data pulled from a data warehouse. It provides specific data available to a defined group of users and allows users with fast access to critical insights.

In other words, an APM with a subject-oriented data search engine helps companies identify issues with a specific department in the business, such as finance, sales, or marketing.

Application Server Monitoring and Diagnostics

APMs should prevent problems before it disrupts critical services and violates Service Level Agreements (SLA).

Application Server Monitoring 

APMs should monitor and track server performance and provide easy identification and quick solution to any server problems.

Component-Level Monitoring 

An APM should be capable of looking into the system components level and investigating performance issues. Component view analysis of the system use agents to monitor the performance. For example, Stackify Retrace has light footprint agents that don’t affect the components’ performance. Retrace monitors the OS, server resources, local application metrics, and others.

Transaction Tracing 

Transaction tracing provides low-level insight on the health of your app. As mentioned earlier, Prefix from Stackify is a transaction tracing tool that provides a detailed snapshot of a single transaction of an application. It records the available function calls and other different types of calls.

Web Server Monitoring 

APMs should not only work for browser level monitoring applications. Instead, it also monitors the server-side to provide insight into end-user performance. Look for APMs that offer server-side monitoring with combined real user monitoring features. Although problems on the end-user side always correlate with the server-side, it is practical to have exclusive server-side monitoring.

Database Monitoring and Management

APMs can be beneficial if it provides consistent performance monitoring and management across varied database platforms. As a result, it reduces administrative costs and improves service levels.

Database Monitoring 

APM should provide intensive database monitoring. For instance, working with SQL Server, MySQL, and Oracle database. The monitoring process should include query details, top query calls, slow running queries, most frequent queries, and others.

Real-time Database Diagnostics

An APM should not always deal with real-time data. Although real-time information is vital, historical data is also essential. Historical data provides trends, queries spikes, and abnormal patterns in performance. 

For example, a simple application code change can alter the entire system. Just like when there is a new release in the production. A business transaction that used to perform three(3) SQL queries suddenly shoots up to 30 SQL queries. As you can see, there is a huge leap from 30,000 to around 300,000 executions per minute in the database.

Therefore, historical data helps compare old and new database contention and waiting execution. As a result, find an APM that can track database resources, time spent, wait states, and the number of executions.

Infrastructure Monitoring

An APM tool that supports infrastructure monitoring links all the differentiated parts of your IT environment. It considers your environment as one centralized platform. For instance, there is continuous management and monitoring for all diverse operating systems that support critical business processes.

Operating System Monitoring 

Operating systems in APMs provide custom metrics across different OS. It also supports APIs that will allow close integration with your system’s OS. Plus, it should have an efficient fault detection system with support for custom notifications.

Network Device Monitoring 

An APM that provides network device monitoring prevents faulty network performance. It should provide early detection and continuous monitoring of the network and related devices. 

An effective network monitoring is capable of identifying endpoints and related performance metrics. Also, it should execute a proper monitoring interval. It means identifying which devices are critical and needs constant monitoring. For instance, devices like desktops and printers are not as critical as compared to servers. 

Let’s understand your Application Behavior

The stiff competition in the online world makes application performance monitoring tools and solutions increasingly essential. They provide vital functionality to both developers and end-users. Organizations leverage these tools to achieve efficient application delivery cycle and IT operations management. Above all, APMs help both IT providers and end-users accelerate digital transformation. 

APMs have different attributes, and it is up to the developers to thoroughly evaluate its capabilities. Developers should ensure that an APM solution can cater to their evolving business needs and technologies. You can expand your research and find other tools other than those mentioned above. 

So, are you starting to search for the right application monitoring tool? Or are you using one to troubleshoot your current application’s pain points? Don’t limit your search as there are other options out there. 

For instance, you can stay ahead with Retrace. It is a well-rounded APM tool known for its simplicity and wealth of features. It offers centralized logging, code profiling, error tracking, and many more.

Try your 14-day FREE Retrace trial today!

About Iryne Somera

Iryne Somera is a professor in the Department of Computer Engineering. She loves to research and write articles related to computing technology such as Computer Hardware Fundamentals, Management Information Systems, Software Development and Project Management. In her spare time, she loves to experiment in her kitchen with her healthy breakfast ideas.